Road to Brexit #10: The End of the Beginning – February 2020

(Title Image: Cambridge University)

While not exactly being the most-read series of posts on State of Wales, I’ve decided to keep the Road to Brexit series going until the start of 2021 or whenever a permanent agreement is reached between the UK and EU.

UK General Election sets UK on course for Brexit

The Conservative victory in the snap 2019 UK General Election all but ensured the UK would leave the EU during 2020 after months of uncertainty.

The Conservatives won a landslide 365 seats, securing a majority of 80, based largely on a pledge to “Get Brexit Done”. Labour endured one of their worse results since the 1980s, losing 60 seats, while the Remain-supporting Scottish National Party secured a strong mandate to press for a second independence referendum.

Withdrawal Agreement Bill passes final hurdles

Within days of the election, the UK House of Commons approved the second stage of the Bill which will enshrine the renegotiated Withdrawal Agreement in UK law by 358-234 on December 20th 2019.

Despite being rejected by all of the devolved legislatures, the UK Parliament approved the Withdrawal Agreement Bill on 23rd January 2020 by 330 votes to 231, and the European Parliament ratified it by 621 votes to 49 on 29th January 2020.

UK leaves the EU; starts year-long transition period

After more than three years of dithering, political turbulence and gross incompetence, the UK finally left the EU at 11 pm on 31st January 2020. The UK’s MEPs were withdrawn from the European Parliament at the same time.

A transition period where the UK will effectively apply EU rules but without any input into decision-making will run until December 31st 2020, with the option of extending it by up to two years.

Unless a long-term deal can be agreed with the EU before then, the UK will fully leave the EU on “No Deal Brexit” terms at the start of 2021.

“UK won’t align with EU rules”

Both the UK Chancellor and Prime Minister have stated there’ll be no alignment with EU rules in any permanent agreement as both the UK and EU set out their negotiation positions ahead of the first round of talks due to take place on 3rd March 2020.

UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said the aim was to agree a Canadian or Australian-style free trade agreement which would likely remove most, but not all, tariffs. He also rejected any idea that the European Court of Justice would adjudicate over post-Brexit trade disputes.

Top World Trade Organisation (WTO) Court Shut Down

In a blow to plans to use WTO rules in a “No Deal Brexit” scenario at the end of 2020, the WTO’s appeal court was closed during December 2019 by the United States.

Unless an agreement is reached for the court to re-open, there will be no recourse for the UK to make independent appeals during trade disputes – a situation the CBI described as like “playing a football match without a referee”.

A parallel appeal court was set up by the EU, China and Brazil without US involvement on 24th January 2020.